Experts in Video Accessibility: Gaeir Dietrich, California Community Colleges
Earlier this month, 3Play Media sponsored a webinar hosted by Sloan Consortium, an organization committed to assisting institutions and educators in advancing the quality, scale, and breadth of online education. Four accessibility experts advised on institutional infrastructure policy, implementation and best practices. (Read our key takeaways.) After the session, we spoke to Gaeir Dietrich, Director of the High Tech Center Training Unit (HTCTU) at the California Community Colleges.
A wealth of information, Gaeir has worked with the HTCTU for 16 years. Gaeir is also a member of the AHEAD Board and the
AHEAD Instructional Materials Access Group (IMAG). From 2010–2011, Gaeir served as the chair for the National Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education, where she represented two year colleges and was a member of the “best practices taskforce” and “technology taskforce.” We felt fortunate to have Gaeir’s time and knowledge, which we now pass along to you.
Below is a summary of our educational interview.
3PLAY MEDIA: Which accessibility laws and technical standards do you look to when developing an accessibility policy?
GAEIR DIETRICH: That’s a really good question. What I’ve been talking about a lot with my campuses is this intersection of access and accommodations.
Let me define my terms. When I’m talking about access, I’m talking about infrastructure. I’m talking about the general, overall access to electronic and information technology, a la Section 508.
I recognize that most states and most colleges do not have to conform to Section 508, because it is federal law. Only about a dozen states have actually taken on the procurement part of it. Most states have not. So it’s not necessarily a legal mandate.
On the other hand, accommodation is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Also, Title 2 and Title 3 of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) depending on if you’re private or public. Those are very specific in requiring you to meet the individual needs of the individual students. I’m referring to that as accommodation.
In terms of web standards, I usually recommend that people go with W3C, because even though the Section 508 standards are slightly different, one of the big things that it’s intended to do is to bring the web standards in alignment with the international web standards. So that’s where we point them.
3PLAY MEDIA: When colleges and universities are developing an accessibility policy, does it always make sense to have one overarching accessibility policy? Or are there cases where individual campuses need to have their own?
GAEIR DIETRICH: I think whenever you’re looking at the question of policy; you have to look to campus culture. You can have the best policy in the world, but if nobody’s following it and taking it down to the level of implementation, it doesn’t do you any good. So you need to have a policy that works, so that you can actually develop procedures around and assign individual job tasks. So all of that really depends a lot on campus culture and how the campus is structured.
I think it’s good to have a general overall policy, because you’re going to get more traction on actually creating accessibility, especially if you have buy-in from top administration. We’ve had a lot of feedback from people who try to work bottom-up, and it doesn’t really tend to work very well. After that, there may need to be some individual variations depending on the particular school or division.
3PLAY MEDIA: Are there some institutions that universities across the country should be looking to as the model for implementing their own video accessibility strategies?
GAEIR DIETRICH: I would definitely highlight the Cal States. The California State Universities have done a lot of work from the chancellor’s office level with their technology initiative. I think that they have a lot that they could offer for people to learn from. Penn State is another really good one to learn from. They did have the OCR (Office of Civil Rights) complaint that was pretty broad and sweeping in the changes they needed to make. They’ve made a lot of those, starting at the highest level.
3PLAY MEDIA: How does budget enter the equation with respect to accessibility? How do campuses prioritize initiatives with budget in mind?
GAEIR DIETRICH: When people first start looking at this issue, they tend to get into a rather digital mindset. It’s all or nothing, it’s either turned on or it’s turned off, like a light switch. They don’t see how it’s a continuum. Providing a base level and adding on individual accommodations is a lot less expensive…. because with accommodations, essentially it’s a one-off. It’s just like having a custom-built pair of shoes, as opposed to being able to buy the shoes off the rack.
Under Section 508, whenever you’re purchasing any sort of technology, you need to make sure that it is accessible. In the early days, a lot of people were actually building specific computers so that you could put JAWS or another screen reader onto them. That was very expensive and very time-consuming. So make sure your basic infrastructure is as accessible as it can be. Put into place some analysis of what you’re buying, and why.
The US Patent and Trade Office, who’s the poster child for the federal government in Section 508, found that, in the first year that they fully implemented the Section 508 buying strategies, they actually saved over a million dollars.
Providing as much of an accessible infrastructure as you can, and then fulfilling individual student needs with accommodation as necessary is really the best way to lower your costs. Budget is important. Even more important is having the accessibility knowledge, strategy, and policy.
3PLAY MEDIA: There’s a lot of talk about reactive versus proactive captioning. What’s your view on that?
GAEIR DIETRICH: The first strategy: ask, is there something available that’s already captioned? Consider that there might be five different videos on a particular topic and we could look at the one that’s already captioned. We could just purchase that one, since they’re not really that different.
But what you’re asking is, should we have it captioned ahead of time, or should we wait for a request? I tell my campuses to do a usage analysis.
If it’s something used in a core class that everybody has to take, like English 1A or US History, for instance, or if it’s mandatory, that is a case where a lot of people are going to see it. So caption it proactively.
If you have something that has very low usage or isn’t mandatory or hasn’t been checked out from the library in five years, wait until somebody requests it and then have it captioned.
3PLAY MEDIA: As you know, captioning has a lot of benefits beyond accessibility. It makes video searchable, more navigable and usable, and helps with comprehension. Do you feel that people are becoming aware of those benefits? Is that helping to get more content captioned?
GAEIR DIETRICH: I think your first point is what’s going to drive it. Searchability. Anybody who’s ever sat down with a collection of tapes knows how daunting it is to try and figure out what each is.. You have to open every one. You have to watch at least part of it. Instead, if you’ve got the text, you can just quickly search videos.
But whenever I’m doing presentations, I do push that it helps everyone to learn. There have been studies done that have shown that for all of us, when you’re in a situation where you’re learning new vocabulary, it really helps to be able to see it and hear it at the same time.
Say you’re sitting there in your very first anthropology class, and you hear about Australopithecus, and you’re like, what? Whereas, if you can see it at the same time, it’s just going to make it a whole lot easier for you to comprehend it.
3PLAY MEDIA: What have been some of the main objections to captioning content?
GAEIR DIETRICH: Well, surprisingly, there’s been more than I would have expected. Some people have said, I don’t want to have captions, because I think they’re distracting. To which we say, well, you only have to turn them on if there’s a request for them. You need to have them, but you don’t have to turn them on. That’s the wonderful thing about closed captions, you can turn them on and off. For other people, it’s mostly the expense or the time involved.
3PLAY MEDIA: Is it better to provide captions on a centralized basis or on a department-by-department basis?
GAEIR DIETRICH: I definitely think you get economies of scale by doing it on a centralized basis. Imagine you have people all across the country who are captioning the same videos. There would be a lot of savings if we could share the transcript and the timestamped file.
Those buying captions get to have that economy of scale, because the most expensive things are creating the captions and then doing the timestamping. After that, it’s really pretty simple.
So it really does make a lot of sense to push for larger and larger consortia of very different sorts working together to solve this captioning issue.
Also, it’s not that expensive for the content producers to add captions in the first place. It doesn’t cost them a whole lot more than it costs us to add captions. They can add another nickel per video, and it would just be better all the way around if that were to happen. Unfortunately, I have not seen any real push for that at a national level.
3PLAY MEDIA: Great point. Well, this has been really helpful. Thank you so much, Gaeir.
GAEIR DIETRICH: You’re very welcome.